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Date(s) - 06/03/2020
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Seminar Hall


Project Title:
Disciplined Subjects: Education and Subjectivity in Colonial Bengal

Fellow: Dr. Sutapa Dutta

The monograph is divided into two sections. The first part builds a theoretical framework of the complex social and psychological processes involved in schooling both in Britain and in India as a public site to frame readers’ subjectivities. This section tries to see the political and ideological similarities and differences in the ideas behind schooling the white child and schooling the colonised, and traces contemporary ideas and debates on schooling both in Britain and in India.It is argued that schooling became a potent site to establish ‘differences’ and inequalities both in the metropole and the colony. Institutions of education were constantly contesting, challenging and refashioning this imposition of social hierarchies and identities. The framing of the subjectivity of the colonized subjects cannot be adequately understood unless we probe into the ‘mutually constitutive’ history of the ideas and debates on education in eighteenth and nineteenth century both in Britain and India.
The second part is about institutionalization of school education and the content of school text books in Britain and Bengal.My last presentation titled ‘Content and Context of Textbooks in Britain’tracedin a chronological framework the development of language primers and school textbooks in Britain approximately from the mid-eighteenth to the end of nineteenthcentury. With the expanding cultures of mass literacy and print, there was a distinct evolution of a market of textbooks that specified particular reading practices, beginning with the early Primers to inculcate religious teachings, to its gradual evolution as a secular reading and spelling book, and later more advanced reading books. By a close assessment of the content and context of textbooks used in Britain in this period, some important connections between literacy, nation building and identity formation were emphasised.
My final presentation on ‘Content and Context of Textbooks in Bengal’looks at some of the Primers and Readers recommended by the colonial government in Bengal.As some of the Bengali upper class educated intelligentsia collaborated with the colonial authorities in writing textbooks for natives, there was an interesting refashioning of existing study materials to suit local and nationalistic interests. Some of the earliest English and Bangla textbooks that came from the Baptist Mission Press in Serampore and the publications of the Calcutta School Book Society, and later by the Sanskrit Press and the presses at Battala in Calcutta can be seen as an experimental space for locating the tensions and disjuncture of ideas and identity in Bengali society.
Such an education system bequeathed to future generations has had important ramifications. It affects the mental conditioning, the subjectivity and the identity of the learners.The study of textbooks used in the past is thus a useful tool to understand the ways in which the subjectivity of Indian learners have been framed. It also opens a window to understand present practices of knowledge formation. Finally, the work attempts to historicize the nebulous nexus between knowledge production, dissemination and appropriation to bring out the complex networks within a deliberately crafted space that was to transform the social and cultural ways in which we look at ourselves.